By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
Ellisville - Missouri Woman's Missionary Union members celebrated missions, gave to missions, learned about missions and participated in mission projects April 15-16 in Ellisville.
With the theme "Celebration of Missions: Christ Followers," the WMU annual meeting featured North American Mission Board missionary Debbie Wohler, International Mission Board missionaries Janet and Dudley Graves and NAMB missionary Alpha Goombi.
Some 64 Missouri WMU members arrived at First Baptist Church, Ellisville, before the meeting Friday to volunteer. Some worked at Missouri Baptist Children's Home and Metro North Family Ministries, and others sorted about 204 cell phones and several toiletry items annual meeting attendees donated. The cell phones were given to Wohler's ministry and the toiletries were given to Metro North.
During the 81st annual session, missionaries challenged Missouri women to pray, give and go.
A member of the Kiowa Indian Nation from Oklahoma, Goombi and her husband serve as multicultural missionaries in Nebraska. But, Goombi explained, God had to show her how much He loved her before she would turn to Him.
While growing up on the reservation, she couldn't attend any mainline church. All turned Native Americans away. She grew up believing she was just a "dumb, dirty Indian." She hated Christians and whites, she said.
Although her mom had taken her and her siblings to a mission Sunday School, Goombi discovered alcohol at 18 and began drinking heavily. She married and had a son. But, she said, she was "angry, bitter, mean and self-centered." Her mom and her in-laws began to pray for her.
Goombi wanted to be the first Native American to win an Academy Award and decided she needed to move to California. One night she screamed at her husband that she didn't want to be married and didn't want to be a mother. Then she discovered her 5-year-old had come into the room and had overheard her.
"Please don't go, Momma," he said. When she turned to respond, she said she saw Jesus behind him. Jesus told Goombi she was attractive and worthwhile and that He loved her. She didn't go out that night as she usually did, and asked her husband to take the family to a nearby mission church.
Now Goombi wants to spend her life reaching out to Native Americans and helping others see their value in God's eyes. Only about four percent of the more than 550 tribes are being reached, she said. She told meeting attendees that 60 percent of the volunteer teams that help with the ministry come from Missouri.
Goombi ended her testimony and the annual meeting by signing "The Lord's Prayer" in Native American Sign Language.
At times fighting back tears, Graves painted a picture of a culture living in darkness. Most Italians know who Jesus is, she said, but do not have a personal relationship with Him.
The Graveses spent the first 10 years of their ministry in Italy in Rome, where there is a small Baptist church. They saw a few people accept Christ there, primarily children of members.
Now they serve in a small town north of Rome. The first Easter in the area, the Graveses invited friends and neighbors to their apartment. But no one came any night that week.
Italians believe that they must work to get to heaven, Graves said. When the Graveses' daughter healed quickly from injuries suffered in an accident, the doctor suggested the Graveses must have prayed a lot to Mary. Janet Graves said they prayed to Jesus. The doctor responded that he couldn't pray to the Lord directly.
Graves reminded the WMUers how Aaron and Hur held up Moses' hands as Joshua and the Israelites fought the Amalekites. As long as Moses' hands were raised, the Israelites overcame the enemy. But if his arms dropped, the Amalekites would have the upper hand. Because Aaron and Hur held up Moses' arms, the Israelites won.
"It wasn't the people who won the battle. It was God," Graves said. "There is a battle going on in Italy...and we are losing."
Growing up in Rhodesia as the child of missionaries, Graves believed missionaries were the ones who "saved" people. "But I have learned that we have nothing to do with it. It's only through prayer.... We are there to share...but it's going to be your prayers that will move the people of Italy," she said.
Graves shared that she has read Randy Sprinkle's new book, "Until the Stars Appear," since being home on stateside assignment. The book showed her what Missouri women already do. "We need your help.... We need a legion of prayers.... I'm not just asking, I'm begging that you would become a part of our ministry," she said.
At 8 years old, Wohler became a Christian, and two years later, felt called to be a missionary. But while in college, she began to question whether her faith was her own or simply a reflection of her parents' faith. She decided to "be cool" and hang out in bars.
One night while in a bar, she asked herself why she was there. "The Holy Spirit does bar ministry," Wohler laughed. "Prodigal daughters can come home."
God opened the door for Wohler to serve as a missionary that summer at Lake Tahoe. "It was a summer that literally changed my life," she said. She discovered that God could use her.
She served two more summers at Lake Tahoe and one at Vail, Colo., before enrolling in seminary. A month before she was to graduate, she got a call to work as a chaplain at the Olympic Training Center. Wohler has served as a missionary to Lake Tahoe for 25 years and has worked as a chaplain for eight Olympic Games.
Earlier in her ministry, Wohler asked God to provide needed vans. She appealed to churches for labels from Campbell Company products to take advantage of Campbell's Labels for Education program. At the time, one million labels could be traded for a van. Churches, including 321 in Missouri, responded with 3.3 million labels.
Now Wohler is trusting God for funds earned through trading in old cell phones and empty ink jet printer cartridges to raise enough money to purchase a house in the Lake Tahoe area for ministry use. Cost of an average home is $841,000, she said, and the average condo costs $400,000.
She challenged the women to "dare to dream.... Dare to believe that God can do the impossible."
The Lake Tahoe ministry serves about 100 children each day. Now Wohler is seeing children from the early years of the ministry become missionaries. (4-20-05)